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date: 26 January 2020

Rock operalocked

  • John Rockwell


An operatic work in which the musical idiom is rock and roll. Such works have little direct connection to the opera as traditionally understood. They do not use operatically trained singers; the sound is amplified; some of the more interesting examples were never intended for live performance.

If opera derives from the mainstream of the Western classical music tradition, then ‘rock operas’ are part of the far larger alternative tradition of music-theatre works stemming from non-Western and vernacular musical cultures. They may eventually join the mainstream; they may borrow, sincerely, cynically or parodistically, the pretensions and cachet of mainstream nomenclature and styles, but for now they remain an outsider phenomenon. Rock itself, born of a marriage of lower-class American black and white musics, was in part a protest not only against standard Tin Pan Alley pop music, but against high art as well (in the words of Chuck Berry’s song, ‘Roll over, Beethoven, and tell Tchaikovsky the news!’)....

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